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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Emergence of Z-Bo

by Connor Witt

This year’s NBA playoffs have been anything but predictable. Brandon Roy’s 18-point fourth quarter in Game 4 against Dallas was one of the best clutch performances of all-time. We saw the Lakers’ quest for a three-peat end in embarrassing fashion at the hands of the Mavericks. A healthy Chris Paul reestablished himself as one of the elite point guards in the game as he carried the Hornets. The Grizzlies came from nowhere to knock off the top-ranked Spurs and push the Thunder to the brink of elimination. But even more astounding than the surprising success of his Grizzlies: Zach Randolph dominating on a team that was actually contending!

Growing up while Z-Bo upheld the “Jail Blazers” nickname played for Portland, I developed an impression of him based more on his sucker punch of Ruben Patterson and his arrest for smoking pot while driving than anything he accomplished on the court. I wouldn’t say Randolph was the ringleader of the Jail Blazers, but there was no doubt that he was a contributing member. (In my eyes the actual order of the Jail Blazer hierarchy goes as follows: 1. Rasheed Wallace, 2. Ruben Patterson, 3. Bonzi Wells, 4. Zach Randolph, 5. Damon Stoudamire, 6. Qyntel Woods, but that’s a story for another day.)

Even though Randolph has been able to put up impressive numbers throughout his career, I have always put him the category of Big Stat Players That Won’t Help His Team Win Anything (or BSPTWHHTWA for short? I’ll get to work a better acronym.) The limited exposure that the Memphis Grizzlies got on the West coast during the regular season made his performance in the playoffs all the more shocking. I knew that Z-Bo could get his share of buckets by throwing his weight around, but his arsenal of flailing elbows, jab steps, pump fakes and spins was incredibly effective (some would say unstoppable.) More impressive than his offensive production was the fact that he shouldered the load for the Grizzlies and – dare I say it – appeared to be a leader for his team. Who was this large, rotund, sweaty power forward playing such inspired basketball, and what had he done with the Zach Randolph of old?

I can imagine how the conversation on Randolph might go if I were discussing it with a 2006 version of myself.

CW 2011:  So... Zach Randolph is tearing it up in the playoffs and it kind of looks like he actually cares whether his team wins the game.

CW 2006: Hahahahahahahaha. Good one.

CW 2011: No, seriously.

CW 2006: Randolph? Yeah right! That's less likely than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh signing to the same team!

CW 2011: (Sigh)

Regardless of who comes out victorious in this year’s NBA finals, history has been made in these playoffs. Years from now fans will not remember the 2011 Playoffs for Zach Randolph, rather for Roy’s four point play versus Dallas, Dirk’s 48-point performance, or Phil Jackson’s last game as a coach. But there is no doubt in my mind that the emergence of Zach Randolph as a reliable franchise player was the most astonishing development. Never did I think I would see that day. The NBA truly is where amazing happens.

 Court adjourned.

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